When course owner Tom Brooks was growing up in Gardnerville, Nevada, his father sold industrial chemicals and occasionally would call on the golf industry. These golf connections helped the young teen get his first job in the business, working at a facility in this rural community about 20 miles southeast of Lake Tahoe.
As Brooks recalls, he just “loved working out on the course and being outside” and he was smitten with the business from the beginning, inspiring him to become a certified golf course superintendent after getting a degree in plant science/horticulture from University of Nevada, Reno.
Several years later, Brooks found himself smitten once again thanks to golf, this time after meeting his eventual wife, Manya Brooks, while working as superintendent for the prestigious K Club in Ireland. As it turned out, golf truly was ‘love at first sight’ for Brooks.
And more than 40 years after Brooks’s late father purchased the family’s hometown Carson Valley Golf Course, the younger Brooks’s love for the business has blossomed into something much bigger than he could ever have imagined. Indeed, Brooks, who is in his 25th year as owner/general manager/superintendent of Carson Valley, an 18-hole public course where his three children grew up working prior to college and starting their own careers, is now taking this labor of love to the highest level of course ownership as the new president for the National Golf Course Owners Association.
Ironically, Brooks and his wife, a former copyright lawyer and the other active brain trust in the family’s golf business, thought they would “stay in Ireland” after they met and got married. According to Brooks, returning to the small town of Gardnerville and overseeing Carson Valley, just wasn’t in the immediate future.
But Brooks will tell you the “saying in our family is never say never.” Consequently, Brooks returned home in 1998, after a one-year stint as the superintendent at the Presidio Golf Course in San Francisco, and he couldn’t be happier with the decision to take the reins of his rural community’s “affordable friendly” course.
The same can be said for the NGCOA and CEO Jay Karen, who is grateful one of the organization’s longtime board members is taking the reins of his organization’s presidency.
“Tom, perhaps like a number of prior leaders of NGCOA, wasn’t ever expecting to be in this position,” Karen says. “He’s a humble person with a great story, running a small business in Western Nevada. Yet Tom’s approach to the issues we face in the golf industry are wide in perspective. He wholeheartedly believes in our need to diversify the game, workforce and leadership in the golf industry.
“Tom also understands the need for NGCOA to increase our advocacy efforts and output, and to widen our tent to be more inclusive and engaging of every type of golf course in America. Tom is overseeing a board at a time when big change will be coming to NGCOA, and I am grateful we have a very thoughtful leader at this point in time.”
To be sure, Brooks brings a diverse and deep golf business knowledge that is unique to the president’s post. For starters, not only is Brooks a certified course superintendent, having worked for several high-profile properties run by Arnold Palmer Golf Management, for example, but he also owns Mountain Golf & Utility Cars, a longtime Yamaha golf car dealership. And last but not least, Brooks can relate to the many fellow NGCOA members surviving in the competitive and consolidating golf industry as family-run operations.
“I thought I’d never come back to the small town my family course is in,” Brooks says. “It was a time in my life where (Manya and I) were just starting our family, so we moved back to Gardenville and it’s been a fantastic place to be and to run our own business. And it certainly has its ups and downs through good and bad economies, and weather and everything that can be challenging to managing a golf course, but it’s been amazing.
“The course has been in the family a long time, so you just get up every day and make it a little bit better every day. Golf courses are a big part of their community, certainly in our small town; it’s where people go to have fun. They socialize and they learn to play this great game. It’s a feature and certainly having come through the pandemic times we saw how important that community is to people.”
These qualities, as well as Brooks’s passion for growing golf-related businesses and helping others in the business succeed, are why outgoing president Steve Graybill, another two-generation family course owner himself, in Central Pennsylvania, is confident about his successor.
“Tom is going to do a great job in leading the organization,” adds Graybill, who runs Foxchase Golf Club in Stevens, Pennsylvania. “It’s great to get another leader in there with a rich family history in running a small business. And the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America has always been a close partner; having Tom with those relationships already established will be a real benefit to the organization.
“I’m excited about the next couple years to see where the NGCOA can collaborate with the other associations to continue to improve the future of golf.”
Ongoing efforts to further strengthen the NGCOA’s relationships with all of golf’s leading organizations is something Brooks equally feels is important.
“We have fantastic leadership in Jay and his team there, so we’re becoming more involved with all the other associations of golf,” Brooks says. “It’s not just one, it’s all of us. And the more we work together the better we can grow this business of golf. …
“So it’s really about the strength of all these golf organizations, working together towards the same ends. The associations all have different audiences. We represent the golf course, and that’s really NGCOA’s role. We want to work with all of these other groups, but we want to bring us together because we have the ability to focus on the golf course – the national golf course association.”
Brooks emphasizes these latter words because he truly loves the golf business and his family’s small-town course laid out in the picturesque valley amidst the stunning Sierra Nevada mountain range. This natural beauty is just one reminder of why Brooks first got in the business as a young teenager.
Now, with three generations of the Brooks family passing through the property, it’s an enduring love in more ways than one.